JESUS OF NAZARETH: MILLENARIAN PROPHET.
Allison has here resurrected the apocalyptic Jesus discovered by A. Schweitzer 90 years ago, Jesus as a millenarian prophet or an eschatological prophet with an apocalyptic scenario. As a millenarian prophet, Jesus predicted the completion on the renewed earth where the distinction between heaven and earth is blurred. As an eschatological prophet, he announced the consummation of the ages, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment. He made these prophecies relevant to his own time by linking them to himself or to persons around him. He talked erroneously about the imminent completion and understood apocalyptic imagery literally, as did his contemporaries and, much later, Muhammad, Xhosa of South Africa, and others. Luke 19:11 indicates an attempt to exonerate Jesus and to attribute his misunderstanding to the disciples. Just as later sects reinterpreted the prophecy of their leader in light of the nonfulfilment, so did the disciples of Jesus (168).
As E. P. Sanders before him, A. doubts that it is possible to work back from the sayings source to the historical Jesus. In particular, he takes issue with Dominic Crossan's methodology. He shows the weaknesses of the criterion of dissimilarity, the conjectural nature of his dating of extracanonical books and of using them as primary witnesses, and the arbitrariness of his stratification of the data. He scores good points against Crossan, but unnecessarily blocks himself by introducing a fictional Faustina, an early Christian prophetess who concocted a number of sayings and placed them on the lips of Jesus. These sayings then got into the Gospels and received multiple attestation. With this move, A. prevents any reasonable attempt at getting back to the historical Jesus. In fact he makes it impossible for any historian to get back to the sources. But in doing this he goes against his own rule that pure possibility is not yet probability. If there is no trace of Faustina's presence in the transmission of the tradition, why postulate her presence, and this at the exact time and place that crucially influenced the Jesus tradition?
Like Sanders in Jesus and Judaism, A. begins with the image of Jesus that the Jesus tradition portrays. He selects 17 themes (Sanders has 18 facts), such as the kingdom of God, future reward, future judgment, suffering/persecution, victory over evil powers, John the Baptist, the Son of Man, God as Father, loving/serving/forgiving others, regard for the unfortunates, intention as what matters most, wealth, extraordinary requests, conflict with religious authorities, disciples as students and helpers, Jesus the miracle worker. He then introduces Jesus the millenarian prophet as the convenient summation of these themes.
There is much to recommend this approach, but why stop at these themes? The documents, after all, speak also of Jesus as the Son of God, of his death and Resurrection, of his conception by the Holy Spirit, of his being more than any prophet and greater than John the Baptist, of the disciples' worshiping him. By selecting only these themes A. showed his personal bias, just as Crossan did in his own way. Instead of Jesus a Cynic wise man, we now have Jesus a Jewish millenarian prophet.
While A.'s book rightly restores Jesus the Jew, the Jesus of his reconstruction is not allowed to stand out of his surrounding or among the figures of comparative religion. He is not the Christ of the Gospels and Pauline Letters but the Jesus of popular perception (Mark 8:28). He is not the Jesus the disciples worship in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, or John. At best he resembles John the Baptist. For A., he is just another millenarian prophet like Wovoka, Mambu, or Birsa (217). And that is theologically and historically scarcely acceptable.
JOSEPH PLEVNIK, S.J.
Regis College, Toronto
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2000|
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